In a new report, Human Rights Watch identifies top commanders of the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) rebel movement implicated in the May massacres in Kisangani, and calls for their prosecution for war crimes. The report finds the rebels responsible for widespread killings, summary executions, rapes, and pillage during the put-down of a mutiny beginning on May 14, 2002.
"The commanders responsible for these war crimes should be promptly arrested and prosecuted," said Suliman Baldo, senior researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
Baldo welcomed the recent signing of a peace accord by Congolese President Kabila and Rwandan President Kagame. The agreement called for the disarming of the former Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe militia in Congo implicated in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, and a withdrawal of Rwandan forces from Congo.
However, Human Rights Watch said that war crimes and crimes against humanity continue to be committed daily by all parties to the war in the Congo, including the Rwandan army and its proxy force, the RCD-Goma.
"Impunity plagues the Great Lakes region, and until the belligerents and the international community show resolve in uprooting it, innocent civilians will continue to be massacred by lawless forces," said Baldo.
The 30-page report, titled "War Crimes in Kisangani: The Response of Rwandan-backed Rebels to the May 2002 Mutiny," is based on a three-week research trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Human Rights Watch research team established that Congolese military and police elements attempted a mutiny against Rwandan elements within RCD-Goma in Kisangani on May 14, briefly occupying the local radio station and killing several persons believed to be Rwandans.
The attempted mutiny soon ended, but RCD-Goma flew in from Goma the top commanders of its army to coordinate a brutal repression campaign afterwards. Human Rights Watch research documented the killing of dozens of civilians in the Mangobo area of Kisangani in the course of the repression, as well as numerous rapes, beatings, and widespread looting.
In addition, the loyalist RCD-Goma elements executed a large number of detained police and military personnel, many of them at the Tshopo Bridge, and threw their mutilated bodies in the river. Many of the bodies later resurfaced. Human Rights Watch also documented killings at other locations, including an abandoned brewery, the military barracks at Camp Ketele and at the Mangobo airport. A final death toll remains to be determined, but Human Rights Watch established that at least 80 persons, and probably many more, died during the mutiny and the repression that followed.
Directly implicated in the killings were: Gabriel Amisi, also known as Tango Fort, the assistant chief of staff for logistics of the RCD-Goma army; Bernard Biamungu, commander of the Fifth Brigade headquartered in Goma; Laurent Nkunda, the commander of the Seventh Brigade based in Kisangani, and other senior officers of the Fifth and Seventh Brigades. Biamungu was seen giving commands to soldiers to go to Mangobo soon before civilians began to be killed there, and was personally at the scene of some of the killings. Biamungu, Amisi, and Nkunda were all seen at the Tshopo Bridge shortly before summary executions took place there on the night of the 14th.
Human Rights Watch questioned whether the U.N. Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) failed to carry out its mandate to protect civilians "under imminent threat of physical violence." The U.N. Mission had more than a thousand soldiers in Kisangani and were clearly aware of the killings.
However, Human Rights Watch commended the detailed investigation into the Kisangani events by MONUC and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that contributed to the establishment of an accurate record of the abuses. The Security Council in July issued a strong call for accountability for the killings.
"We welcome the U.N. Security Council's call for accountability in Kisangani," said Baldo. "But the Security Council needs to provide MONUC with the means to protect civilians within areas of their deployment, and to increase the number of human rights officers attached to the mission."